Music News

Cowboys From Hell

Eddie Spaghetti is homesick.
At the mere mention of Arizona, his voice goes limp as his mind hearkens to happy childhood memories. Like the other members of the Seattle-based hillbilly hard-core band Supersuckers, Spaghetti was born and raised in Arizona.

Along with original guitarists Dan Bolton and Ron Heathman and drummer Dancing Eagle (Eddie plays bass and sings), Spaghetti grew up in Tucson, graduated from Santa Rita High School (class of '85) and played clubs all over the state before making a break for the cradle of grunge in 1989.

"Yeah, we're good old Arizona boys," Spaghetti muses. "Seattle's a beautiful city--there's water everywhere, great place. But when I go back to Tucson now, I love it. I have a great appreciation for things down there . . . but it took moving away to see it."

Occasionally, Spaghetti says, he wonders if the 'suckers hightailed it out of their home state at the right time or for the right reasons.

"Back then, we didn't realize there were people in Arizona who were actually putting out independent records and doing tours without major-label support," he says. "It was happening, but we just didn't see it. We weren't in those same circles."

Spaghetti rattles off a roll call of names like Green on Red, Naked Prey, Sidewinders, Giant Sand and the Meat Puppets as Arizona bands that, unbeknownst to him, were making it on their own in the mid-'80s. He says the Supersuckers--known then as the Black Supersuckers--were blinded at the time by their opening-act status in long-gone Tucson and Phoenix venues like Rockers and the Sun Club.

The band's iffy career momentum, along with a healthy hit of postadolescent wanderlust, combined to give the young musicians a collective kick in the hindquarters.

"We had all lived there for 21 years and we were more than ready to get out," Spaghetti says of Arizona. "We didn't want to go to L.A., and we had a friend living in Seattle, so we thought, 'Why not?'"

Spaghetti says he and his bandmates pictured Seattle as a sleepy little town where they, as conquering Arizonans, would "go up there and blow everybody away."

"We got here," Spaghetti says with a laugh from his Seattle home, "and we were proven wrong right off the bat."

One of the band's first jobs after relocating was stuffing Nirvana singles at Sub Pop Records. Spaghetti and company got the gig via another Arizona expatriate--Danny Bland of the fondly remembered Valley band Nova Boys.

At the time, Sub Pop was a tiny local label with fewer than ten people on the payroll. Bland offered the 'suckers free beer in exchange for help inserting seven-inch singles into record sleeves.

"It's our first day there, and we're like, 'Who is this Nirvana band? What's up with them?'" Spaghetti says. "Then someone played a promo copy of Bleach and we were like, 'Oh. They're good.'

Wide-eyed, the 'suckers watched the Seattle scene explode in a blaze of flannel and feedback. But while the Northwest sound was being defined by heavy guitars and screaming lyrical introspection, the Supersuckers--resplendent in their cowboy-hat-and-cheap-cigar motif--were yucking it up with country punk songs like "Creepy Jackalope Eye," "She's My Bitch" and "Sweet 'n' Sour Jesus."

Suffice to say it took a while for the locals to catch on to the Supersuckers' knucklehead vibe.

"I think our sense of fun is something we carried up from Tucson," Spaghetti says. "When we first moved up here, I was feeling like I didn't have a hope in hell. I mean, I'm kind of a normal guy. I don't do a lot of brooding, my parents loved me, I wasn't abused, I don't have a drug problem--well, I don't have a drug problem [insert rim shot].

"Anyway, I felt out of place because, basically, we're kind of a good-time band. It took a while before people here--and other places--latched on to the idea that we weren't shoe-gazing, miserable rock 'n' rollers like most Seattle bands."

Recently, the sound coming out of Seattle has taken a mood swing. Up 'n' comers like the glam-heavy Sweetwater and the gangly goofballs in the Presidents of the United States of America are turning Seattle's frowning music face upside-down.

The Supersuckers may soon be flashing the toothiest grin of 'em all. The band's latest CD, The Sacrilicious Sounds of the Supersuckers, ranks as the best Satan-friendly, retro-redneck party disc Seattle has ever seen (and perhaps the only one--but it's still damn good).

Sacrilicious kicks off, appropriately enough, with "Bad, Bad, Bad," followed by the debut single, "Born With a Tail," a jaunty little number that has Spaghetti shout-singing, "You know/I'm in league with Satan and/You know/There can be no debatin' my hell-bound trail/I was born with a tail."

The CD's devil-may-care hootenanny is enhanced by a strong sense of melody that gives tracks like "Doublewide" (the 'suckers' ode to trailer-park life) and the pop-smart "Bad Dog" a snapping set of teeth--the album grabs on and holds tight.

The band still comes off like buzzed truckers at happy hour, but Sacrilicious hints at a more approachable Supersuckers--willful satanic references notwithstanding.

"I don't mind being poppy," Spaghetti says. "I think pop's good. But I like to get out there and play it a little faster and dirtier than most."

Spaghetti adds that the pop elements on Sacrilicious are heightened by the background vocals of Rick Sims, the once and former leader of Chicago's legendary Didjits.

Sims temporarily joined the Supersuckers after original guitarist and Arizona native Ron Heathman left because of what has charitably been described as an excess of rock 'n' roll lifestyle problems (Heathman has since rejoined the group)."Ron left a month before we were going to make the record," Spaghetti says. "We were in a panic. We needed somebody we knew was good. We'd heard the Didjits had recently broken up, and they were one of our favorite bands of all time. We called Rick on a lark to see if he could help with the recording, and he not only agreed, he wound up joining the band."

Sims' life as a Supersucker, though, didn't last long."Things didn't quite work out that well," Spaghetti says. "He was used to being the leader of a band, and we were used to having a guy with no opinions. We thought we wanted a guy with opinions, but I guess we didn't. Rick could see that we were feeling wishy-washy and he decided to get out. He was smart."

Equally smart was the Supersuckers' decision to continue their relationship with the aforementioned Danny Bland, who graduated from Sub Pop to start his own management company, American Blandstand, which represented the Supersuckers, among other Seattle acts.

When the 'suckers went to Austin, Texas, for the Sacrilicious recording sessions, Bland went with them. He had connections at Willie Nelson's label, Justice Records, and arranged for the graybearded country star to sit in with the Supersuckers for a version of "Bloody Mary Morning" slated for a Willie tribute album.

The 'suckers made fast friends with Nelson, and he confounded music watchers by giving the band a slot at this year's Farm Aid. Spaghetti says the massive crowd seemed to like his band's cow-chip charm. The farm folks especially appreciated the Supersuckers' cowboy hats.

"They go, 'You wore 'em just for Farm Aid, didn't ya?'" Spaghetti says. "We said, 'No, actually, we're dumb enough to wear 'em all the time.'"

Supersuckers are scheduled to perform on Saturday, October 21, at Boston's in Tempe, with Tenderloin. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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Ted Simons